12 It was told King David, ‘The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.’ So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; 13and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.
17 They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. 18When David had finished offering the burnt-offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.
20 David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, ‘How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!’ 21David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord.22I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honour.’ 23And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.
— 2 Samuel 6, 12-23
The story at hand opens with David bringing the ark of God into the city of Jerusalem. Just prior to this story however, after his first attempt to move the ark resulted in the death of Uzzah, David decides to leave the ark at the house of Obed-Edom. You see, Uzzah had touched the ark which the Levitical law specifically says is forbidden. Despite Uzzah’s desire to keep the ark from falling to the ground, the Lord struck Uzzah dead. David was furious with God and then afraid of the consesquences of having the ark in his care. With this in mind, David’s second attempt to move the becomes a bit more courageous. David’s tense yet excited state is evident when, after only six steps, David sacrifices an ox AND a fatling to God. That would have taken some time to accomplish but I think it is safe to say that David was willing to take the time in hopes that no one else would die during the transport of the ark.
Though the journey was an estimated 10km, being that they were carrying the ark by hand using poles as was commanded, it would have been an arduous journey. And still we are told that David is rejoicing and “all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet” (v. 15). Despite the long journey and the botched first attempt to move the ark, the Israelites were excited to have the ark in Jerusalem. Their newly crowned king David was uniting the chosen of people of God in their new capital city of Jerusalem and all was well. For everyone except Michal that is.
Michal, a daughter of Saul, is first mentioned in 1 Samuel chapter 18 where she is married to David and we learn that she loved him (v. 20). Then in chapter 19, she helps David escape from Saul by lowering him out the window and laying something in the bed in his place. When Saul’s guards come to get David so Saul can kill him, she lies and says David is sick. Along with Jonathan, Michal takes actions against their own father, and oh yeah, their king, in order to save David’s life.
In this passage it is almost as if it is a different “Michal” we are talking about. Instead of someone who has undivided, self-sacrificing love for David, we see someone who is critical of David and despises him. Why? Oh…did I forget to mention that David was dancing around in his underwear as the ark was entering into Jerusalem? Yes friends…that is today’s equivalent of a “linen ephod.” Interestingly, the text does not say this is the reason that Michal despises David, or as one translation put it, is disgusted by him, it simply says that when “she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord…she despised him in her heart” (v. 16). At this point David is still wrapped up in the ark and is completely unaware of Michal’s response to his actions. He offers burnt offerings and blesses the people before sending them off with a portion of the food. Once everyone has returned to their homes, David returns to his home to bless his household. One wonders if this is a special blessing since he has already blessed the people. Unfortunately David doesn’t even make it to the house before Michal chastizes him.
Instead of offering congratulations and sharing in the blessing of the fact that the ark of the covenant was in their midst, Michal does out to meet David and says he has acted as “any vulgar fellow might [by] shamelessly uncovering himself” especially in front of his servants’ maids (v. 20). This is some harsh criticism for someone who has apparently set up his household, as well as the city of Jerusalem, for blessings from the Lord. As I read the way Michal addressed David I couldn’t help but wonder what had made her change. How had this woman who had couragously helped David escape and lied to her father turn out to be so critical of the one she loved? Had her time away from David as he fled for his life leave her embittered? Did her father’s decision to give her in marriage to someone else even though she was married to David make her jaded? Maybe this second husband had not treated her well. Maybe she resented David’s demands to have her back once he was king. Did she have children with this other man? Did she have to leave them behind? And all for a high spirited man who danced shamelessly in front of the city in his underwear? What was God thinking?!? Maybe she just knew that this was not something a king should do in front of his subjects. After all…she was the daughter of a king. But before we villainize Michal, imagine if you will, what you might think and feel if one of our elected officials danced in his or her underwear before God because they were that excited about God’s provision. We may not be as kind as Michal was. Would we call the cops? The psychiatric hospital? Whatever her reasoning, it seems as though Michal made the choice to chastize David.
While Michal may have thought that this was not something a king should do in front of his subjects, what she didn’t realize was that this was very appropriate for a subject to do in front of his King. When David responds to Michal’s harsh criticism, he nails this on the head saying, “It is before the Lord…that I have danced.” He then adds that he will become “yet more contemptible than this…[and]…be abased in [his] own eyes” (v. 22). His maids, he says, will hold him in honor contrary to her belief that he has shamed himself before them. But it seems that David goes over the line in defending himself by putting Michal in her place. He says that “the Lord…chose me in place of your father and all his household to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord” (v. 21). In a sense, David undoes the contrite aspects of his reponse with this self vindication. He too made a choice in his response to the actions of another. It make me wonder if the story would have ended differently had he responded with understanding and empathy.
In many movies and television shows, when a character is presented with a difficult decision or a tantalizing temptation, a devil will appear on one shoulder and an angel on the other both arguing for the person to make their idea of the best decision for the situation at hand. We have all had these moments. How do I respond to a situation that unfolds beyond my control? Michal didn’t have control of David’s conduct in the street and my young friend didn’t have control of her parents decision to get divorced. When my parents, or spouse, or kids don’t do things exactly the way I had hoped am I indignant and bitter thinking only about how I will be effected by their actions? Am I embarrassed at how my friend raises his hands during worship? Do I criticize the one who shouts hearty amens during a sermon? Michal had the choice to encourage David for his efforts to bring God’s blessings to his people. But instead she focused on what she thought he should be doing. But maybe David was doing exactly what he needed to do. Maybe David is responding to the call of God to worship with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. And maybe, just maybe, those who cross our paths that we are tempted to be critical of are trying to do the same.